The Great British Sewing Bee

As I finally come up for air, post Game of Thrones, I find myself mainlining the backlog on my saved shows. Starting with The Great British Sewing Bee.

The Great British Bake Off, as we know, has become a smash hit now on both sides of the pond. (Due to Pillsbury and the US litigious society, over here it is known as The Great British Baking Show.) The result has been several spin offs over the past few years trying to recreate the magic, including The Great Pottery Throw Down and Bake Off: Creme de La Creme. But the most successful of these has been Sewing Bee. Now in its fourth season, the show has undergone a make over of sorts from last year to this, clearly hoping to attract PBS to pick it up and broadcast to a US audience.


Original judge May Martin has been replaced by a stricter school marm type in Esme Young, who seems a bit like Edna E Mode from The Incredibles come to life. The show has moved house from Metropolitan Wharf in London to a former tannery in Bermondsey, which is far more cinematic. Claudia Winkleman from Strictly Come Dancing is still attempting to be both Sue and Mel at the same time, and other judge Patrick Grant is still as if someone took Tim Gunn and David Tennant and put them on blend.

The structure of Sewing Bee is much like that of Bake Off. The contestants come in for two-day stints on weekend, and then go home in between to practice for the challenge next week in their home studios. There are three challenges per episode, but unlike Bake Off, the contestants only practice for the last one (the “Made to Measure” challenge) at home. The first two are both blind challenges. In the first, (The “Pattern Challenge”) they are handed a pattern packet, and must pick appropriate fabrics from “the haberdashery” and follow instructions and create the item on a dummy. Like the opening challenge on Bake Off, this is about following directions to make what they are told. In the second, (the “Alternation Challenge”) they are handed a surprise garment and told to alter it into something else. In one case it was ugly bridesmaid dresses into a kid’s outfit. Like the second challenge on Bake Off, this tests their instincts and intuition.


The final “Made to Measure” is the only one where they have models to dress. There is no glamorous runway though. Just the middle aisle between the sewing stations for the models to walk down.


As for the challenges this season, I know they’re not actually trying to put Project Runway to shame, but dayum. Twice this season they’ve done challenges for the home sewers that correspond directly to challenges we saw on Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars.

The first was a bra challenge.

  • On Project Runway: a challenge to promote host Hedid Lum’s underwear line. The show was so convinced that having the designers design undergarments would be a trainwreck, they didn’t actually have them make any–instead they gave them plain bras, a selection of lace and notions from Heidi’s company stores and told them to basically wrap the underbra in them to show what their design idea was. the contestant who won was the one who didn’t use the underbra, but her actual creation was a trainwreck.
  • On Sewing Bee: They handed the contestants a pattern and told them if they followed it, they would be just fine with the engineering. The result–with the sole exception of the contestant who failed at time management–was a line up of perfectly constructed bras–the home sewers put the Project Runway wannabe designers to complete shame.


The second was an athletic wear challenge.

  • On Project Runway: a challenge to make “athleisure” wear, to promote host Alyssa Milano’s line of clothes. The entire episode focused on how much all the contestants hated one of their number who was left, and there was little to know discussion about what it took to maker athletic wear and why it was harder than regular clothes.
  • On Sewing Bee: Not only was there an in-depth discussion of the fabrics that the contestants had to use, there were close-ups of the sewing machines as they stitched, a discussion of why using a “overlocker machine” was the proper way to finish a garment (in the US, they’re called sergers,) and an entire segment of the history of athletic clothing.

You can see why this show is right up my alley.


Last night was the semi finals, as the contestants went from the final four to the finale, which will have three contestants. Those in the final are 18-year-old Jade (who is the youngest contestant on the show so far), Joyce (referred to on the regular as “Infuriating Joyce” because she does not follow directions well, especially on Pattern Challenges), and Charlotte, who is my personal pick to win. The final airs this coming Monday on BBC 2, and I cannot wait to see who wins.

Let’s home that PBS sees the value in the show and picks it up too? Though the lack of any more Great British Baking Show in the current 2016-2017 line up announced for next year suggests maybe they decided that Americans weren’t *that* into the show after all.


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